Tier 4 Immigration - Covid-19 FAQs
For a more detailed analysis of the Home Office’s published Covid-19 Guidance for Tier 4 sponsors, migrants and short-term students, please see article at the following link: https://www.doyleclayton.co.uk/resources/covid-19/covid-19-and-tier-4-visa-sponsorship-navigating-new-home-office-guidance.
If you have any questions about Tier 4 immigration please get in touch with Anna Blackden (Associate).
Tier 4 Sponsors
Can we continue sponsoring existing Tier 4 students via distance learning?
- Yes – The Covid-19 Guidance confirms this is permitted and it does not matter if your sponsored students are physically in the UK or overseas. It is not necessary to report this to the Home Office as a change of circumstances.
Are we allowed to sponsor new Tier 4 students via distance learning?
- Yes – According to the Covid-19 Guidance Tier 4 sponsors can now assign CAS to new students who will start studying through distance or blended learning for the 2020/2021 academic year, provided the student will transition to face to face learning as soon as circumstances allow. The concession will remain in place until the end of the 2020-2021 academic year.
This concession does not appear to allow Tier 4 sponsors to assign a CAS for a course starting before 1 August 2021, such as pre sessional or foundation course delivered online or through blended learning.
Do we need to report Tier 4 students who miss ten expected contact points due to Covid-19?
- No - Tier 4 students who cannot meet the requirements for recording physical contact points due to moving to distance learning, or who are absent from classrooms or work placements as a result of Covid-19 related illness or travel, do not need to be reported for missing expected contact points.
The Covid-19 Guidance also states that, where possible, sponsors should use expected online contact points. However, the Home Office will not take action against sponsors who are unable to monitor online contact points due to practical or technical limitations.
Sponsors should ensure that attendance records include evidence that any student absence is Covid-19 related.
Do we have to withdraw sponsorship where students cannot attend our site due to Covid-19 related reasons?
- No – The Covid-19 Guidance confirms sponsors do not need to withdraw sponsorship where students have been issued a Tier 4 visa but they are:
- Undertaking distance learning because they cannot travel to the UK or
- In the UK but cannot attend their studies in person due to Covid-19
Tier 4 sponsors also do not have to withdraw sponsorship if a student is unable to attend for more than 60 days due to Covid-19 but intends to resume their studies. Sponsors should maintain a record of students who are absent for Covid-19 related reasons.
The Covid-19 Guidance also confirms that students who do withdraw from their studies as a result of Covid-19 will be discounted from a Tier 4 sponsor’s data in future Basic Compliance Assessments. Sponsors should retain records to evidence that a student has withdrawn for Covid-19 related reasons.
Can a CAS be used to support a visa application where it has expired or the course start date on the CAS has changed due to Covid-19?
- Yes - Where a CAS has become invalid because it has expired, or was marked as ‘used’ in an application and the student was unable to travel due to Covid-19, the Home Office will exceptionally consider accepting that same CAS with a new visa application on a case by case basis.
Where a course start date has subsequently changed, if a CAS is still showing as ‘assigned’, sponsors should add a Sponsor Note with the new course start date (if known).
The Covid-19 Guidance confirms that if a Tier 4 sponsor is assigning a CAS to a student based on a temporary concession, this must be noted in the Sponsor Notes section of the CAS.
Can we accept copies of a Tier 4 student’s BRP and passports where we cannot see the originals?
- Yes - Where it is no longer practical or safe for a student to submit these documents in person, or where sponsor sites are closed due to Covid-19 social distancing measures, the Covid-19 Guidance confirms that it is acceptable for a digital copy such as a photograph to be provided and kept on file.
Where a student cannot take an English Language test as the test centre is closed in their home country, can we self-assess the student’s English Language ability ourselves?
- Only in limited circumstances, according to the Covid-19 Guidance.
Tier 4 sponsors who are Higher Education Providers with a track record of compliance can self-assess a student’s English Language ability at CEFR Level B1, only where:
- A student cannot take the test as a result of the closure of test centres in their country and
- They need to study a pre sessional course first
Are there any additional considerations for Tier 4 sponsored students who are under 18?
- Yes - Any Tier 4 sponsor which is currently sponsoring a student aged under 18 has a continuing duty of care while the child remains under its sponsorship and is in the UK - even if the child has stopped studying.
Such safeguarding duties mean that sponsors of child students must continue to ensure suitable care arrangements are in place for them if they remain in the UK during the Covid-19 pandemic, even if they are not attending classes.
Our Ofsted inspection has been delayed due to Covid-19, will this be a problem for our Tier 4 sponsor licence?
- No – statutory inspection cycles are being affected and potentially delayed by restrictions on physical inspections. The Home Office has confirmed it will take a pragmatic approach to unavoidable delays in inspections caused by Covid-19. It will also allow inspection bodies to use other inspection methods such as virtual meetings or desk-based inspections.
The Covid-19 Guidance confirms the Home Office will not reduce a sponsor’s CAS allocation to zero or make them a Legacy Sponsor due to Educational Oversight delays.
Tier 4 Applicants
I am currently in the UK on a visitor visa. Can I stay in the UK and switch to a Tier 4 visa?
- Yes – the Covid-19 Guidance confirms it is possible to make a Tier 4 application in the UK when you would usually have to return overseas to make the visa application, provided that your current immigration permission will expire or has expired between 24 January 2020 and 31 July 2020.
Since 26 June 2020, this provision has also included individuals whose UK immigration permission expires after 31 July 2020 (with no cut-off point at present) if they "urgently need to make a new application, for example to start a new job or course of study, and cannot leave the UK to make an application from overseas".
This ‘exceptional switching’ concession applies to current Tier 4 visa holders as well as other UK visa holders, including visitor and short term student visa holders. The Covid-19 Guidance confirms there is an exemption from the usual requirement to have a gap of no more than 28 days between the end of your current visa and the course start date on the CAS. This exemption only applies if your current UK immigration permission is due to expire by 31 July 2020 and the course start date on the CAS is 1 October 2020 or earlier.
You would still need to meet all the usual Tier 4 visa requirements, including evidence of funds.
The deadline for applying under this ‘switching’ provision is 31 July 2020, and that includes people whose immigration permission expires after 31 July 2020.
Can I start my course before my Tier 4 application has been decided?
- Yes – where you have submitted a Tier 4 application in the UK, the Covid-19 Guidance confirms you can start your course before your Tier 4 visa application has been decided, provided the following conditions are satisfied:
- Your sponsor is a Tier 4 sponsor
- You have a CAS
- You submitted your Tier 4 application before your current visa expired and provided your sponsor evidence of this
- The course you start is the same as the one listed on the CAS and
- You have a valid Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS) certificate, if required
Please note, however, if your Tier 4 visa application is eventually rejected as invalid or refused, your sponsor would have to end teaching and withdraw your sponsorship.
As a result of Covid-19, my studies have been disrupted and it will take longer than expected to complete my course. Will the Tier 4 rules about maximum study lengths provide any flexibility to allow me to study my next course in the UK?
- Maybe. The maximum length of time that a Tier 4 (General) student can be granted a student visa will remain the same (i.e. 2 years for below degree level study and 5 years for degree level and above, subject to limited exceptions). However, the Covid-19 Guidance confirms the Home Office may apply discretion in the future where any period of leave that would cause a student to exceed the Tier 4 study limits was as a result of Covid-19.
When I arrive in the UK, will I have to self-isolate for 14 days?
- Under current rules, international students arriving to study in the UK from 8 June 2020 will be subject to the UK’s self-isolation or ’quarantine’ rules.
You will need to provide your journey and contact details on an online passenger locator form 48 hours or less before you travel to the UK. Once in the UK, you will not be allowed to leave the place where you are staying for the first 14 days, except in very limited situations.
If you travel to England on or after 10 July 2020, you will not have to self-isolate if you have come from one of the countries with travel corridor exemption. You will still be required to self-isolate if you have visited or stopped in a country that is not on the travel corridors exemption list in the previous 14 days.
International students who arrive from one of the countries with travel corridor exemption, will still have to provide details of your location in the UK by completing a passenger locator form.
There are different self-isolation rules and countries with a travel corridor exemption for international students travelling to Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.
You should contact your Tier 4 sponsor about support they are putting in place for international students needing to self-isolate for the first 14 days
I have a police registration condition in my Tier 4 visa. How will I do this if I need to self-isolate?
- The Covid-19 Guidance states that from 20 March 2020 you are not required to register with the police or report a change of circumstances if social distancing measures prevent this. Registration and updating changes of circumstances will resume once police services re-open.
Will I still be eligible for the new Graduate Immigration Route visa if I had to study some of my modules via overseas distance learning due to Covid-19?
- Yes – The Covid-19 Guidance confirms that any time spent studying outside the UK due to Covid-19 will not count against Tier 4 students applying for a Graduate Immigration route visa provided that they enter the UK before 6 April 2021 and they spend their last semester in the UK with Tier 4 immigration permission.
The new Graduate Immigration Route is still scheduled to be launched in the Summer of 2021.
If you have any questions about Tier 4 immigration please get in touch with Anna Blackden (Associate).